'Super' goals set for Fairfield school improvements
Six months into his job as superintendent of schools, David Title has devised a multi-year improvement strategy for Fairfield's schools. The initiative is based on, among other things, dozens of one-on-one and small group interviews, observations of classroom instruction in every school and meeting with PTA representatives.
While Title noted at the Board of Education meeting last week that change is not urgent -- the measures of Fairfield students' performance are among the highest in the state -- he did say that complacency in an ever-changing world "sows the seeds for decline."
Title stressed that it is better to focus on initiatives that will give the school district a good return on its investment of time, energy and resources, rather than focus on an unlimited number of things. However, before there can even be talk of changes, Title said, "we need to understand the goal."
The goal, he added, "is to ensure that all students acquire the skills and knowledge outlined in our comprehensive, rigorous instructional program." In other words, the goal is to improve student achievement. To merely offer a comprehensive, rigorous program is not enough, he said. "Offering is one part. We need to do all we can to make sure they master it," he said.
His improvement strategy document states in order to become a premier school system, "Our mission must be to `ensure' students success (not `hope' or `inspire' it). A truly premier school system targets success for all students."
Title said progress toward that goal needs to be measured. Some examples of benchmarks that could be used to determine progress, he said, could include: the percentage of local students at goal and at advanced levels on standardized tests, CMT and CAPT; percentage of students performing at basic or below measures on CMT and CAPT; number and percentage of students achieving 3 or higher on AP exams; number of students successfully completing a co-curricular program or activity (during school or after school); percentage of students achieving success in their first year of college; and number of high school students who need credit recovery to graduate.
Title's strategy includes "four areas of concentration:" strengthen skills of teachers and staff; strengthen skills of school leaders; alignment of the 17-school system (consistency in the educational program and resources), and sufficient and well-utilized resources. All four, according to Title, should improve the instruction of a rigorous curriculum, and thus lead to improved student learning.
"Concentrating our resources of time, energy and dollars into these four focus areas will yield the greatest impact on student learning," the superintendent states in the strategy document. One theme across all four areas is the improved use of student performance data to drive the district's decision-making.
Title said the Fairfield school district currently suffers from a case of "initiative fatigue."
"Sometimes this condition is caused by the district undertaking so many initiatives that none can be done well," he said. "Sometimes it is caused by people not being able to understand how the many initiatives under way are tied to a bigger picture for change. I hope through this general framework for district improvement we may be able to tackle both parts of the problem."
Title's improvement strategy document, and explanation of it, was well-received by school board members.
Board member Tim Kery said, "I believe we can be one of the premier district in the country with the right focus ... I believe this is a step toward that focus."
Board Vice Chairwoman Pam Iacono said the document has made her "excited again."
"This is why I'm on the Board of Education. This is why we hired you Dr. Title," she said, adding that she's pleased to be working "toward something rather than around something."